Why I’ve started to resist the “Feminist” label…

1. The Undefinable. What exactly does it mean to be a “feminist”? According to the Webster dictionary, “feminism” refers” to movements aimed at establishing and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women.” And a “feminist” is someone who practices feminism. What does that even mean? How do you practice feminism? What principles do you have to accept to be considered a “feminist”? Who knights you into feminist-hood? What pillars unite the various schools of “feminist” thought? Moreover, what if you don’t practice the principles of “feminism”–can you still be “feminist”? Do you have to have time in your life in order to be an active participant (or practitioner) of “feminist” ideas? The more I think about these questions, the more I am annoyed confused when someone labels themselves as “feminist”. What does it mean to be a “feminist”? I would not consider myself completely ignorant in “feminist” theories . My undergraduate minor was in women studies and I know Judith Butler, bell hooks, Faludi, Friedman and Steinam. I am quite limited in my knowledge of the criticism, but I just want a working definition. What does it mean to call yourself a “feminist”? And if you do not fit a definition of a “feminist”, then are you an anti-feminist?

2. The “Backlash”. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. One thing that is also beginning to bug me is empty terminology. If you critique the Israeli government, you are labeled an anti-Semite. If you critique a principle accepted as “feminist”, it becomes an attack, or a backlash, as Faludi termed it. If you think against the grain, you receive a label that marks you a cancer to “modern” society. The backlash mainly refers to religious resistance against “feminist” movements around the world who want to confine women to the domestic sphere. This is problematic to say the least. The assumption that religions require women to remain in the domestic sphere is a false one. If religions will be criticized by “feminists”, I at least hope that the critics have studied the religion’s scripture and the representation of women in their sacred text before religions take the beating for social ills.

3. The Timeline. how many”feminists” are aware that Islam ensured women of their rightful inheritance (property, wealth) and that the first wife of prophet Muhammed (pbuh), Khadija, was a business woman who ran and maintained her own successful business? If “feminism” serves to secure rights to women, then Islam has been a feminist religion from its conception. Islam demanded an end to female infanticide occurring in pre-Islamic Arabia, secured a woman’s inheritance and rights to her OWN wealth, encouraged education, and corrected Biblical account of Adam and Eve by dividing blame equally between man and woman instead of the Biblical blame on Eve.  “Feminism,” as we have come to know it, is a collection of ideals and principles by white upper-class women that served the needs of white upper-class women. The first wave of “feminism” is dated in the 18th century. This is absurd to say the least. It completely wipes out efforts that were taking place hundreds and thousands of years before the 18th century.

4. The Mold. According to the definition, a “feminist” must practice “feminism” (nevermind that “feminism” remains undefined). What if a woman chooses to take part in “things” that reflect patriarchy? A self-declared “feminist” chooses to get married…or adopt her husband’s last name…or perform gender…or wear things that are interpreted as representing patriarchy (wedding ring, head scarf). What if you don’t support abortion?  If you don’t practice feminism at all times, then what does that make you? No, really. This is a serious question. Who is a practicing “feminist” and who is not? Is there a space in “feminism” for women who follow religion? Is there a space in “feminism” for women who believe there is power in the domestic sphere? Who fits the mold? Who doesn’t?

5. The Violence. An abuse of power carried out by those with “feminist agenda” on third world women. I don’t have another word for it, really. I recently read an article in National Geographics titled “Veiled Rebellion” focusing on the issues surrounding women in Afghanistan. A picture that caught my attention was a women who partially shields her face from the photographer. Another picture that caught my attention was one of a group of unveiled women at a wedding. The first question that came to mind was “who gave National Geographics the permission to publish these photos?” Did every woman give her consent and was she aware of the agenda/purpose that her body would be fulfilling? There is something inherently violent about penetrating the private lives of women who may not even know their bodies are being used for a so-called “feminist” agenda. What is most disturbing is that articles like these are published every day and they inspire a greater voyeuristic curiosity into places where  the public may not be welcomed.

6. Liberation. What does it mean to want to liberate women? From what are you liberating women? And what makes one lifestyle more liberating than another? As far as I am concerned, everyone needs liberation from something. So how does a shift into “liberal” mode offer a woman a more fulfilling life? What does it mean to be liberated? I tend to prefer the word “empowerment” rather than liberation as I have come to realize that many women feel empowered through ways that may not always be in line with the connotation of the word “liberation”.

I always considered myself a “feminist”. As I mentioned, I did my undergraduate minor in women studies, though I am no expert in the theories and am sure I am overlooking a lot of criticism. Nonetheless, I have begun to resist the label of “feminist” because it no longer makes sense–and because I admit I no longer know what it means. A fight for equality (and equal access to information, education,  rights, etc) for women makes sense. But I feel that the word “feminism” has taken a life of its own–it has a face, a system, a rhetoric with which I no longer identify.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this post gets labeled as “feminist backlash”–it’s a predictable response.  I am not seeking to make “feminist” efforts seem unimportant nor trivial, but I want to start at square one–That is, with a clear understanding of the word “feminism”, the principles that belong to “feminism” and what it means to practice “feminism”. Until then, the word is empty rhetoric to me.


One thing I failed to mention when I drafted this post is that I am aware of what is called the “third wave” feminist movement where the needs of women who were originally marginalized (black women, women in third world countries, LGBTQ’s, etc) ‘write back’ against the second-wave feminist movement. A favorite book that raises many of the questions that I pose here are also raised is The Color of Violence: Incite! Anthology. I actually just purchased it because I have checked it out of the library over 10 times and still constantly refer to it. Maybe I should revisit it to get over this slump I’m having over the “feminist/feminism” label.

The Color of Violence: Incite! Anthology

Can I start a fourth wave?


3 thoughts on “Why I’ve started to resist the “Feminist” label…

  1. We sanctify what we are grateful for. I appreciate women and the gift they are to the world. I am not quite sure what feminism is, but I celebrate femininity.

    • Thanks for your comment, Santi. I think “feminism”, in it’s purest form is a celebration of the female sex–though with the politics that are embedded within it, the term has become confusing and unclear. Generally speaking, “feminism” are practices, ideals and movements that try to bring justice–social, sexual, legal, economic, political–to the marginalized sex.

      While this is something I support 100%, associating oneself with “feminism” or labeling oneself as “feminist” suggest some kind of allegiance an unnamed system. This is what has become problematic for me…the allegiance part. What exactly am I siding with when I label myself as a “feminist”? If I refuse the label, does that make me an anti-feminist–that is, someone who doesn’t support and defend the tribulations of the marginalized sex? What if I do not want to defend certain “feminist” values, then, do I fall out of this category?

      As someone who indeed does care about (and actively participates in) programs related to improvement of the position of women in society, this label has been a concern to me lately. What are we accepting and siding with when we take on this “label” and what do we compromise (for example, religiously) when I let others assume my position on issues as a labeled (or not) “feminist”.

  2. One question I’ve always had when thinking about feminism is this: which “feminism” or whose “feminism” are we talking about? Are we talking about the feminism of the White, middle-class or are we talking about the feminism of the underprivileged women of color or of some other group?

    To be honest, though I certainly consider myself an exponent of women’s rights in principal, the convolution of the term often obfuscates me because half the time I’m not sure who is speaking. I’m only vaguely familiar with the writings of bell hooks, but I am pretty familiar with the idea of intersectionality. How much does intersectionality factor into these discussions? I mean, it can’t be that the feminism of the White middle-class is ubiquitously accepted throughout women-kind, right? That just wouldn’t make any sense: how can it be that ALL women want the same things as those voiced by this particular group…or any particular for that matter? You seem to suggest that this group has, in a sense, already set the tone for the conservation. Why is it that this particular group controls the conservation?

    For example: a Muslimah wears a hijab and is told by a so-called feminist that she’s oppressed (which wouldn’t surprise at all if you have received this comment before). When the Muslimah retorts that she’s not oppressed, her rejoinder is dismissed, as if she’s been hypnotized. Why is that?! This drives me freakin’ nuts!

    It’s just difficult to have honest, meaningful discussion about these matters with such a nebulous basis.

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